Even though the FAA has streamlined the process of approving drones for commercial use, obtaining a Section 333 exemption requires detailed knowledge of the regulatory steps necessary. Such a need raises the sometimes expensive specter of hired legal guns.
The UAV Systems Association (UAVSA), a commercial drone membership group, hopes to make the streamlining process, well, even more streamlined by launching a package for its members that cuts away the legalese and allow more commercial drones to soar.
According to a UAVSA press release, the Exemption Application Fast Track Pack will “empower members to simply downloading the Fast Track Pack and immediately having all the information and documents to complete their application, to create an “N” number for their aircraft, and fly legally commercially.”
The section of the agency’s 2012 legislation governing UAS, 333 grants commercial drone users permission to operate both rotorcraft and fixed-winged UAVs. Applicants must obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) that ensures the airspace for their proposed operations is safe, and that they have taken proper steps to see and avoid other aircraft.
Although the group’s website has no price listed for the service, it promises members will be offered a “low-cost” solution and have access to a 333 Assistance Hotline to answer any questions about the process.
The FAA has granted more than 200 Section 333 exemptions so far and the agency has listed more than 100 waiver petitions on its dockets for consideration.
UAVSA officials point out that the agency has taken more aggressive steps to license drone operators, including the FAA’s April announcement to deploy a “summary grant” method that has the effect of speeding up 333 approvals. In cases where the FAA has previously granted exemptions similar to one on its current docket, the agency may simply authorize the request without requiring a lengthy proceeding, especially in the categories of film/television production and aerial data collection.
The agency has also greased the skids for the 333 roller coaster by granting blanket Certificate of Waiver or Authorizations (COA). Currently a drone operator must file for a COA prior to each operation in order to “give a ‘heads up’ to air traffic control that a UAS is operating in a particular airspace.” The UAVSA explains the new process:
“Under FAA’s new policy … Section 333 exemption holders will be granted a blanket COA allowing the holder to operate within the parameters of its exemption anywhere in the country except areas where operations are prohibited by FAA (e.g., restricted airspace and major cities) as long as the UAS is flown at or below 200 feet, and remains at least 2 to 5 nautical miles from airports or heliports (depending on the type of airport or heliport). For any operation outside of these parameters, a separate COA will be required.”
Regulators see Section 333 as a fast-track method to improve American drone competitiveness across a growing global industry while also curtailing illegal operations and improving safety.